We all know that worship is supposed to begin with God, but in actual practice, OUR worship can tend to be more about us. Just look at the average contemporary worship song. Many of them are so focused on MY feelings toward God. In fact many of our songs can easily either be sung to God OR to someone we are in love with. There is a place for that, but worship begins with God and the fact that HE is worthy of our worship no matter the state of our feelings toward God that day.
In practice, the best way to do this is to firmly anchor our worship services in God’s story. One of the best definitions that I have found regarding what we are to do when we gather for worship is by Robert Webber. He says, "Biblical worship is first and foremost the remembering, the recalling, the proclaiming, the enacting of God's mission in Jesus Christ to redeem, rescue, and restore creatures and creation. We gather to hear that story, enact that story, sing that story, and go forth to embody the story."
So in a sense, corporate worship is a drama that works best when all who are gathered actively participate. Week after week, we rehearse the same story of the true and living God. His word (which tells the story), and the best worship traditions of the Church, guide us in how to enact the story in our worship. And as we do it over and over again, it begins to shape our experience as Christians. We begin to understand God’s mission in this world. More importantly, we begin to understand our place in that mission and as a result we are brought into the actual story as we live it out in the world.
Worship that begins with "me and my needs" tends to warp God into my story. Unfortunately, I am afraid that is what is encouraged in a lot contemporary American worship. Worship that is rooted in God and His redemptive work through Jesus Christ, ultimately brings me into His story.
There are two questions that immediately come to mind when I think about worship:
1) Why do I worship?
2) How do I worship?
In my life, I've been more focused on question two right now. That's because I grew up with the idea worship was just singing songs in church. I don't know where I got that idea, but it was there. And I don't much like singing. I've been pondering the concepts I wrote about in my last blog post for several years now, and they're still pretty mind-blowing to me.
The more important question, though, is the first. I think Brooke's comment points to it. For me, I first asked question No. 1 when I became a Christian. (For others, maybe the questions arise in a different order or simultaneously.) I've continued to ask it over the years and to reflect on my answer. I worship out of obedience because God is God--awesome, strong and mighty--and also because he loves me and has forgiven me. It's similar to the way I obeyed my parents as a child: partly out of fear, partly out of respect, and primarily out of love.
Truthfully, when I became a Christian, I didn't feel like being obedient. I didn't want to go to church, I didn't want to sing worship music, and I didn't want to read my Bible. I had my reasons for resistance. I felt church folk were judgmental. I was unmoved by worship music. And I didn't trust the Bible was validly God's word. I wondered whether it had been corrupted over the years by lost or tossed sections and bad translations.
I would have been happy praying at home, churchless, musicless and Bibleless. But I knew God wanted me in a church. So I visited a few churches out of respecting, loving, fearful obedience to him. I knew I wouldn't find one that made me happy, since I didn't want to go at all. Still, I made a decision I'd stick with the next church I visited in obedience to God. I faithfully attended for years, and despite my best efforts, I didn't make one friend at that church. I tried to serve, but it seemed the church leaders were only interested in sticking me where they needed me, not in areas of my best talents. I felt continuously shut down and shut out. I longed for a better church experience. Yet every Sunday, I felt blessed. Sometimes it came through a verse or an idea from the sermon. Mostly, it came from the half-hour drive to and from church, when I always felt God was near me.
Now I'm at the church of my dreams. I love the services, I love the people, and I feel loved. My talents are known and utilized. But honestly, I'm glad I didn't have this happy church experience first. It would have been easy to come to my current church every Sunday just for the fellowship. My experience taught me I need to go to church with the attitude, "I'm here for you, God. If I don't get one thing out of this for myself, that's OK. I'm here to worship you."
Similar events transpired in regard to singing and reading my Bible. When I began reading the Bible, I literally forced myself to read a certain amount every day. I did it as an act of worship. Am I saying worship should be forced or mechanical? Absolutely not. Let me explain with a real-life illustration. There are plenty of days when I don't feel like cooking dinner for my husband. I'd rather plop down on the couch with a box of cereal and let him fend for himself. But every night, he gets a home-cooked meal, simply because I love him (even when I don't feel the warm and fuzzy emotion of love) and because I know he deserves it. He works hard and he's a good husband and a good man.
There's a difference, I think, between an action itself (such as reading the Bible or singing) and the act of obeying God. I like this verse that's often quoted in relation to worship: "Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father and I too will love him and show myself to him" (John 14:21, NIV, emphasis mine). Since I know God has commanded me to be a good wife, that means cooking dinner for my husband is an act of worship--wow! I also love the Hebrew word "mitzvah" (yes, you're getting some Judaism 101 at H-n-T this week). As I understand, mitzvah means both "commandment" and "connection." Thus, obedience is the expression of our connection to God.
We can be worshipping God every second by adopting an attitude of worship into our daily activities. That attitude may or may not deepen my affection for the activities themselves. But I can make my attitude right by focusing on that question, "Why do I worship?" and similarly, "Why do I obey God?"
I can't honestly say I'm at the point where I daily proclaim, "Woo hoo! I have the privilege of reading my Bible and worshipping God!" Most days it's a joy. But on those days when it feels like a chore, I'm going to do it anyway. Not out of legalism or thinking God will be extra nice to me. Rather, I'll do it because I love God. And though I'm pretty tired, I'll be making dinner as usual tonight, since I love my husband, too.
1) Do you agree with Holly's assessment that sometimes we have to "force" ourselves to obey and worship God? Refer to your own experiences in considering why you agree or disagree.
2) What questions do you have about worship? Are some easier to answer than others?
3) What are some ways it's easy for you to worship? What are some things you know God wants from you that have been really difficult for you to do/release/acknowledge?
4) When I think of the word "obedience," I often associate it with "chore," "struggle," or even something I'm strong-armed into doing. I often forget that "obedience" implies there's a choice. Consider this: You have a choice in whether to worship God and follow his laws. Does the idea of having a choice make it easier or more difficult to obey? Why?